September 25, 2007

Bonjour Cornell

Print More

On occasion, I’ve been accused of being unpatriotic. Some have even called me anti-American. My aversion to McDonalds, my complete disinterest in national sporting events, and yes, I will admit it, my general avoidance of beer have led some to suggest that I adhere to the maxim “love it or leave it.”
Well to all of my critics out there, I finally decided to take your advice. I have up and left the United States and am currently living in Paris, where I will be studying for the fall semester.
In my copious amount of free time (that’s right, class hasn’t started yet), I have been wandering around the city and taking note of ideas I’ve decided should be imported to our country. Because in fact, I love America, and I think it deserves our attention to be improved upon.
When I first arrived in Paris, I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of cafés on every street. There will be at least three options from which to choose when you need your caffeine fix. There will also be things you are not used to. First of all, there is rarely such a thing as coffee “to go.” I believe this stems from the French philosophy that it is ok to take a break (the French get at least five weeks paid vacation a year. Incroyable.) Take some time to repose, have a chat, or ponder the world situation at one of the many tables outside. No one to talk to? No reading material? Not a problem. The French will not think you “weird” or “bizarre” or rejected by the rest of the human race if you want to sit alone with your coffee and have a few minutes to yourself. Sounds pleasant, n’est-ce pas? I think Americans could get used to the idea pretty easily.
What might take some more getting used to is the truncated options. Forget about ordering a double-shot-vanilla-skim-cappuccino with aspartame sprinkles. When you want a coffee in France, you basically have two options. Café or café au lait. Translation: a shot of espresso, or a shot of espresso with milk. How could the French possibly deprive the people of all those wonderfully delicious concoctions we know and love in America (or at least at Starbucks)?! Here are two reasons. The café, wherever you go, is consistently excellent. And it is served to you in under 30 seconds.
I could wax poetic on Paris’s food for pages on end, which I am tempted to do, but which would not suit the purpose of this article. For several reasons, I do not think America will ever be able to prepare French haut-cuisine. Sorry.
So I will instead say a few words about the pharmacies here. Like the cafés, they can be found on every block. It is at first alarming to discover that you won’t be able to buy a candy bar or a soda as you would be able to at CVS or Duane Reade. But what you will find is quick and friendly help from the pharmacists, all of whom are trained professionals. They will listen to you describe your symptoms, even take a quick look at whatever’s wrong if decent to do so, and then give you whatever you need from behind the counter. That’s not to say that you won’t ever need to see a doctor in France. But for the little things that need tending to, you don’t need to schlep all the way to a medical center. Wouldn’t it be nice to have what amounts to a neighborhood physician on your block? And one who won’t deny you what you need to get better because your insurance doesn’t cover it? But that’s a topic for another article, and one which I won’t write. Go see Sicko.
There you have it, just a couple of things that the French seem to do well and that we might stand to think about adopting. There’s no shame in borrowing ideas, and God knows the French have taken some of ours. Do you know how many Parisians walk around with iPods? It rivals the numbers on the Cornell campus. So let’s all share and share alike, and everyone can have a bit of joie de vivre.